Yes, two posts in a row about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s children’s masterpiece, The Little Prince.
I’ve seen this book referred to by a number of reviewers as something of a Christian allegory. That being so, I’m still never quite sure if I am reading more into it than the author intended. But even if I am, I suppose that is yet another mark of a really good author, that the principles in his work can be seen as real-world truths that can be applied in ways he never anticipated.
Here’s how Psalm 19 begins in the English Standard Version of the Bible.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
Like the psalmist, when I look up at the stars at night, I see the glory of God displayed in the things that He has made. “What an awesome God!” I might think to myself. And yet, Richard Dawkins looks up and the same sky and says “what a pretty accident” (or at least, he could say that, given what he believes about the absence of a creator of the Universe).
Of course, it can be explained in rather boring terms why we respond to the same sight differently. I think that there is a personal God who is responsible for the existence of the universe, and Professor Dawkins does not. But why explain such things in boring terms when The Little Prince does it with such poetic style? In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s story, our hero , in his search for human companionship, has just met a fox.
“Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”
“I am a fox,” the fox said.
“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”
“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince. But, after some thought, he added:
“What does that mean – ‘tame’?”
[At this point the fox distracts from the question for a little while, but then we are returned to it, and I will go to that part of their discussion now.]
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
” ‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than just a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”
“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower… I think that she has tamed me…”
“It is possible,” said the fox. “On the earth one sees all sorts of things.”
“Oh, but this is not on the earth!” said the little prince.
The fox seemed perplexed, and very curious.
“On another planet?”
“Are there hunters on that planet?”
“Ah, that is in interesting! Are there chickens?”
“Nothing is perfect,” sighed the fox. But he came back to his idea.
“My life is very monotonous,” he said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
“Please – tame me!” he said.
In a way it cheapens really effective analogies to explain them after they are given. They are supposed to just work. But here’s a start: God is the little prince, you are the fox, and the wheat-fields are the heavens that declare his glory – if we have been tamed. Now read it again.
That is why Richard Dawkins and I can look up to the same starry sky and see two very different things.